Covid-19: Return-To-Work Best Practices: Key Considerations for Reopening Physical Workplaces
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Author Erin Zorde has accepted an in-house position at Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, effective May 19, 2021. Anyone wishing to contact Erin should contact Lori Jantz, his former legal assistant at email@example.com
As provincial governments in Canada carefully lift restrictions, employers must be cognizant of new workplace considerations and how their employees will return to work safely and smoothly. This article serves as a guide for employers as they develop their COVID-19 return-to-work plan.
Prior to creating a COVID-19 return-to-work plan, employers should be mindful of their existing obligations. Their plan should take into account any current employment policies or agreements, employee handbooks, and collective agreements. Employers should additionally monitor any workers’ compensation developments that may affect their return-to-work plan.
When developing and implementing a return-to-work plan, employers should consider, but not be limited to, the following steps:
Employers may also consider putting a team of individuals in charge of the return-to-work plan to allow for a wider range of perspectives and a more accessible return-to-work plan.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses rushed to have their employees work from home and other businesses were shut down completely. As businesses reopen, employers should consider reducing physical contact, where possible, by enabling employees to work from home or by using e-mail, teleconferencing, and videoconferencing in lieu of in-person meetings. If physical workplaces need to be reopened, it is recommended that employers modify practices to reduce contact, such as implementing a contactless business model, postponing non-essential meetings or travel, and staggering work hours or workdays.
There are several aspects an employer should consider if they choose to implement staggered work hours. Employers should factor in the impact of daycare, school, and public transportation and how those disruptions may impact the availability of employees for the staggered hours, as there may be employment standards or human rights implications in some scenarios. If unionized, employers should also ensure that the new work schedule is in compliance with any collective agreements.
In addition to adjusting work locations and schedules, employers should consider adapting their physical workplaces to reduce contact. Employees should be spaced at least 6 feet or 2 metres apart. Where a 6 feet or 2 metre distance cannot be consistently maintained, other forms of physical barriers may be used, such as taller cubicles or plexiglass.
Employees and visitors of physical workplaces should be made aware and reminded of the business’s COVID-19 physical distancing protocols. The main areas employers should consider are:
In terms of sanitation, employers should ensure there is a protocol in place for the overall sanitation of the workplace, in particular, the cleaning and sanitizing of washrooms. Employers should also remove any unnecessary high-touch surfaces, such as magazines and toys in the waiting room.
Lastly, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) may be used on the advice of an organization’s occupational health and safety officer. If required, employers will need to provide PPE to employees and teach employees how to correctly put on and take off PPE.
The Government of Canada recommends the use of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings in certain situations when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 6 feet or 2 metre distance from others, such as in crowded settings. If an employer wants to require or encourage the use of masks, they should supply those masks to employees and/or visitors.
COVID-19 has given rise to numerous challenges for both employers and employees. Many employees have underlying health conditions, have childcare issues, are caring for a sick relative, or have concerns about returning to work. Employers should consider and develop policies that accommodate these groups:
Employers should communicate with their employees that it is their responsibility to self-report to human resources or management when they receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis for themselves or their family members. Employees should also report if they or their family members exhibit characteristic symptoms of COVID-19 or if they are subject to travel-related quarantine restrictions. If an employee begins to feel ill at the workplace, the employer should follow the established COVID-19 contingency plan in their return-to-work plan.
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, the employer must maintain confidentiality and privacy. In Manitoba, public health officials will conduct a public health investigation. The employee will need to identify all individuals they worked closely with during the time that they were infectious. These employees will need to be informed of any possible exposure, but the identity of the infected employee must be kept confidential. If any additional measures need to be taken, public health officials will provide advice to the workplace.
As a result of COVID-19 and the development of a return-to-work plan, employers may additionally need to adjust their policies and contracts. Employers should update their employee handbooks to reflect the “new normal” and prepare for future pandemics.
Employers should consider adjusting:
As you develop your return-to-work plan and adjust your employee policies and handbooks, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP is here to support you. Consider contacting a member of our Labour and Employment team to help your business navigate the “new normal”.
Co-author: Celyna Yu,
Law Student at TDS
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